Black History:  Special Delivery!!

Albert Cleage

Rev. Albert B. Cleage 1911-2000 (later changed his name to Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman) was a theologian, nationalist, civil rights leader and father. He was a major influence on Detroit politics and black nationalism. He established the Central United Church of Christ in Detroit in 1956.

Cleage had become disenchanted with the white hierarchy of his denomination. Though he had served in integrated church settings; it seemed disheartening to him because he felt that he continued to witness racism and unfair treatment.

In 1970, shortly after the unveiling of an 18-foot painting of a Black Madonna in his church, the name was changed to Shrine of the Black Madonna and the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church denomination was created. The church also maintained the Shrine of The Black Madonna Cultural Center.  It was a hub of progressive, African-centered, religious, cultural and political activity. He contended, that Christ and many of his disciples were African in origin and suggested that Europeans had captured and twisted Christianity to assist in their enslaving Africans. He argued strongly for African American control of their own fate.

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Albert Cleage in front of Shrine of The Black Madonna in Detroit

Cleage did not believe in integration for blacks. He felt that it was important for blacks to obtain and maintain an economic, political, and social environment independently. He founded the City-wide Citizens Action Committee to support black businesses. He also promoted the education of black children by black teachers.

In the 1970s, Cleage expanded the church to Atlanta and Houston. Cleage was also very active in politics. Though he ran for office several times, he never won. However, his candidacies and advocacy led to the creation of the Black Slate, an organization that was instrumental in electing Detroit’s first Black mayor, Coleman Young, as well as other political officials. Cleage was also very instrumental as part of the 1960’s Black Power Movement.  He authored 2 books, “The Black Messiah” and “Black Christian Nationalism.”

Growing up in Detroit, The Shrine Of The Black Madonna Cultural Center was an icon in Black community. But I was not fully aware of its origins or impact. I’m wondering if any of the Black Mail blog readers are familiar with Albert Cleage?

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